Wednesday, October 23, 2013

My new site is - Come on over and visit...

Friday, October 4, 2013

Can you really understand the runner's mindset? The dzlrunner's perspective...

"Running... if you don't do it, you probably won't understand it."~ dzlrunner

I'm sure that there are other quotes that mean similar things and have a similar point.  But, I came up with this one after having an uncomfortable day on this past Wednesday.  I was inspired by the infamous Washington Post quote, "If you don't get it... you don't get it."

In my limited running experience, I've found that if a scheduled training run doesn't happen, there's a good chance that things won't go right.  That's just the way it is for me and it might be the sentiment among other runners, as well.

This week, I planned to shoot for 30 total miles.  I wanted to go into my second half marathon, at the Baltimore Running Festival, with my strongest training week.  I started out with a very good 10k (6.2 miles) on Monday.  I finished in 1:12:41 and a 11:43 pace.

Tuesday was a rest day and Wednesday, I was looking for another 6 miler.

Now, I'm a morning runner... But, I knew that I would have to run in the evening, because my wife had to get to work.  I wouldn't have enough time to get 6 miles in and get my boys to school by the time they needed to be there.  My oldest son is a safety patrol and he normally raises the flag on the flag post each morning.  That's a very important job to him, so I try to get him there so that he can take care of his responsibility.

Anyway, I didn't run in the morning and my day just didn't seem to go right.  It was a slow, tough, slog all day long... Similar to a slow, tough run.  (I had one of these a couple of weeks ago... Took me 2 hours and 10 minutes to complete 8 miles. Yuck!! But, you'll have these from time to time... It's inevitable!)

Lunch is normally a time for me to decompress a little bit from the morning.  Well, that didn't happen... No decompression at lunch.  I knew what the problem was and I was looking forward to my nice, fulfilling run that evening.  The rest of the day goes by and I'm finally able to clock out and go home.

Now, I get home the same time my wife gets home with the kids.  I was ready to go for my long anticipated run... I knew my wife had to leave to handle some business, but I was still planning to get my run in.  I figured, I could be back by the time she was ready to leave.  She didn't like that plan.  She was concerned about her ability to leave and do what she had to do in a timely manner.

So, I waited for a bit...  And I waited... I was now quite frustrated.  As the time steadily slipped away and evening was turning into night, my chance to run was diminishing.

This is part of why I like running in the morning... The run is already done and no one else is affected. 

Running in the evening can create havoc when you have a family.  It's dinner time, you have to help with homework, baths and putting the kids to bed.  It's no longer summer time, so no long days and no daylight past 7:30pm.  This is why I don't run in the evening... it puts a strain on the rest of the family.  And that is not what I want my running to do.  That creates problems that I'm just not prepared to deal with.

Well, I was pretty frustrated at this point and that's the point of this post...

My wife couldn't understand why I was so annoyed.  I found it pretty difficult to explain my frustration.  I felt like she wouldn't understand the significance of missing a training run, let alone missing a training run so close to a race.

Running is my sanctuary and that's where I can get my mind right, clear my head and settle myself down.  After a run, I'm in what I like to call, a zen state of being...  That's when nothing bothers me and I'm Mr. Happy.  Running is my drug!!

When a scheduled run doesn't happen for me, I get antsy and anxious. Sort of like an addict who hasn't had their fix!

What makes running so important to me is, the discipline and routine that I can take pride in.  I mentioned in a previous post about all the 'unfinished business' I have in my life.  Well, having the ability to be consistent and disciplined enough to train regularly for goals that I have set, gives me a great sense of pride and accomplishment.

That's a part of what makes running attractive to me... But, that may not be as attractive for non-runners...

The choice and the mindset to punish the body many times over through exercise, doesn't sit well with some people. They can't understand it.  The decision to pay for the aches and pains that come from running in an official race, is unfathomable.  There's always the question of why we would put ourselves through that type of anguish.  The DNF (Did Not Finish) can be three of the most dreaded letters to some runners... Non-runners won't understand that.  They won't understand why someone is willing to crawl through a finish line in so much agony and decide not to quit, when the first set of cramps or sharp pains arise and your body won't do what you want it to do.

They can't understand why someone would wake up in the wee hours of the morning to run, instead of stay asleep.  They can't understand why we love our "gear" and, as far as they're concerned, every time they turn around, it's something new being worn or used to run.  (I'm laughing as I write this... I'm replaying, in my head, many of the jokes that I have heard from time to time about the purchase of new gear... Many of them told by my wife, my running partner's wife and others...hilarious!!)

If you don't run, can you really understand the runner's mindset?  Let's put it this way... The running community has an open invitation to anyone who wants to join.  That's what is so awesome about this group of people!!  Overall, it's a very encouraging group who don't care whether you're fast, slow, fat, slim, black or white.  We are brought together by the fact that we run!!

Until you run, you'll have a hard time understanding the runner's mindset.  But once you run and do it for a while, you'll begin to see and know for yourself, what it's all about.  Try it!!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

My first 14 mile training run

I was shooting for anything over 13 miles on this run. Thanks to my running partner, Mike, I've got a 2nd half marathon coming up in 2 weeks.  We'll be running the Baltimore Running Festival Half Marathon on October 12, 2013, for my birthday.  I'm pretty psyched about this one and looking forward to a much better performance compared to my first half a few weeks ago.

I needed to get the taste of bad training runs outta my mouth...  From the half marathon of two weeks ago, which was completed in 3 hours and 6 minutes, officially, to last Saturday's training run of 8 miles in 2 hours and 10 minutes.  Ugh!!

I had a good training week so far (4.53 miles on Monday and 5 miles on Wednesday) and wanted to end it with a strong long run.  I was focused... From the time I woke up until I arrived at the beginning of my training route.  I blended a protein shake and drank it around 5:45am.  I wanted to start my run by 6:15, but that didn't happen and I finally left the house around 6:30.  It takes about 15 minutes to get to the start location of my training route.  I didn't start my run until 6:54am.

The run started with clarity, determination and hope.  My mind was clear, my will was full of determination and I was hoping to reach my goal.

The first 3 miles breezed by... I have my Garmin set for a 12:30 minute pace and I was pretty consistent at this point.  I took my first GU Energy gel as 45 minutes had passed at this point.  I felt strong and worked my plan.  I got to mile 4.5 and the water from the protein shake began to work within me.  I had to go, but the urge wasn't that bad.  I knew I would be coming up to a Burger King soon on my route and if I could hold it until then, I'd be fine.  Success... I reached the Burger King at 5.39 miles and was pretty thankful that I didn't have to hold it any longer.

What I noticed throughout this run is that I used less water, than I normally would.  I believe it has a lot to do with the cool weather and the fact that I hydrated well, all week long.  I'll have to do further research on that and write an upcoming post about hydration.

A small suggestion when running is this: Always know where bathrooms are on your route and use the restroom before you start.  Then, use it again.

I continued and the 6 mile mark was my turnaround for this portion of my training route.  I felt fine throughout this point and was looking forward to continuing and seeing how long I could go before I started to fatigue.

At mile 6, I crossed the street and started back.  I was making good time and my pace was pretty consistent.  The next nutrition I would take is the margarita flavored Clif Shot Blocks.  These work very well, when used properly.  I took 3 shot blocks at the 1 hour 15 minute mark.  This was just the second time I sipped water from my Camelbak.  I was feeling ok, but I knew fatigue would be setting in soon.

I continued through miles 6.5 - 10 with no problems.  At mile 10, I noticed my posture beginning to lean forward.  I consciously corrected it and noticed that as I ran more erect, I felt renewed.  I've read somewhere that runners should try to run more from their core, instead of just their legs.  I don't know if that was what I was doing, but I remember feeling like i could run like that forever.  My legs didn't feel that tired and I was keeping a slightly slower, but steady pace between miles 10 - 11.5.

By this time I had already run for over 2 hours, straight, non-stop (except for the Burger King bathroom).  I was tired.  I barely got to mile 12 and remembered thinking about how far I'd come on this run.  I only had 1 more mile to go, in order to reach 13 and I began negotiating with myself.

I started saying that if I could get to mile 13 then I'd be that much closer to finishing.  I was basically running on will at this point.  No more smiles, no more thinking about the beautiful weather.  I was interested in being done.  The soreness of my legs and feet didn't stop me.  I had to keep telling myself that "Pain is just weakness leaving my body".  That was my mantra at mile 12.

I also remember thinking about the other races I did earlier in the year.  The Charles Street 12 Mile Race was finished around 2 hours and 40 minutes; my first half marathon was finished in over 3 hours and last week's training run of 8 miles was done in over 2 hours.  At this point, I had run close to 13 miles in less than 2 hours and 45 minutes.  This was an encouraging sign, that this was a good run.  And it confirmed my theory that my first half marathon was finished in over 3 hours mainly because it was not a road race.  I can finish a half marathon around 2 hours and 30 minutes! Confirmed!

My watch died around mile 12.5 and at this point, I was using the Map My Run app on my phone.  I normally use the app when I know I may not have charged the Garmin completely, as a backup.  I had reached mile 13.1, finally.  And at this point, I was not as far from my car as I was a few minutes ago.  I had to figure this out.  Would I call it a day, when I get to my car or will I push to reach my 14 mile goal.

I decided that since I had gone this far, I could go a little further.  I went for the 14.  As I pushed and pushed, it seemed the mileage was going nowhere.  It felt like an eternity before the next tenth of a mile flipped over the screen.

I ran zig zag, up and down, side to side in the parking lot, in order to squeak out this mileage and finally, it was done.  14 miles is officially in the books!!  Now, I know that I can do 14 and will be confident going into the Baltimore Running Festival.  I'm contemplating on whether to shoot for another 14 miler for this Saturday, which is a week before the race, or if I should dial it back a bit.  I'll pray for some guidance on this one and see how things shake out.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

My First Half Marathon: The Abebe Bikila International Peace Race Recap

I was expecting a road race, not a trail run... I was expecting to finish under 2 hours and 30 minutes, not over 3 hours.  And I was expecting to have a great first half marathon race performance, not a tough, grind it out, push through the pain first half marathon race performance.

Yep... This race was nothing like I expected it to be.  Let's start from the beginning, shall we?

I woke up, like I normally do on race day at 4:30 am.  The race was scheduled to start at 8:00 am.  This race was part of a celebration for my running partner's birthday.  He was running his first half marathon and I was too!!  We trained through the heat and humidity all summer long for this and we were going to have a great time.

I woke the family up and they got ready... Throughout my training, my wife, Kim, has been great support.  She regularly gets the kids ready, while I try to focus on getting myself together.  She's taken the kids to school on days she doesn't have to work, while I'm out getting my training runs in.  I'm very appreciative of her support because, there is no way that I could spend the amount of time I do, running, without her assistance.  Not to mention, she's been at every race I've done this year including this one.  Thank you dear!

So, I wanted to be at the start line by 7 am.  I always try to get to a race early because I want to settle down, experience the sights all around, enjoy the smells in the air and get focused.  I don't ever want to rush because I don't like running with a flustered mind.  Running is a sanctuary for me, so I want to be as zen-like as possible.

Anyway, we arrived at the race around 7:15 which wasn't bad.  My running partner, Mike and his wife, was already there and ready to go.  We felt really good about this race!!  We had come out here a couple of weeks before to run in the area and get a feel for how things would be on race day.  We attempted to run the course, but got lost.  A few days earlier, I downloaded the course map.  It was an out and back on the C&O Canal in Washington, DC near Georgetown.  Unfortunately, it didn't spell out whether it would be on pavement or on gravel and rocks.  We ran the pavement route and it took us into Georgetown on K Street, by the Washington Harbor.  I was guessing whether or not we were right about the direction of the course at this point...

We decided to forget about the course map and run our own route.  We just wanted to get some good mileage in.  We ran past the Kennedy Center, through Washington Harbor and crossed the Key Bridge into Crystal City, VA and took the path back to where we started.  Our route totaled 12.3 miles.

Suffice it to say, we felt pretty good about the race...

There was no chip timing for this race.  I asked and one of the volunteers said that our time would be tracked manually.  There was a strip at the bottom of our bib that would be torn off and collected when we finished.  There was one clock with the time on it and the director himself would input each runners finishing time into a database.  Let’s just say that I was happy to have my Garmin with me.

As we got to the starting line, we noticed that there were actually two different paths: one was gravel, dirt and rocks and the other paved.  The starting line was over the gravel path.  I chuckled to myself and said that they probably want us to run out on gravel and come back on the paved path.  Man, was I wrong!!

The national anthem was sung and not to be mean, but, you could tell that the singer didn't have hot tea or coffee before she sang.  The 'frog was still in her throat' and those higher notes of our wonderful American theme song were a little too high to reach.  She actually apologized after she missed the notes a couple of times.  I didn't laugh at the time, but after thinking about it I laugh now.  We pitifully began assisting in the singing to bring her on home.  And we all clapped at the end of the unfortunate but genuine performance.  I've had my embarrassing moments in front of people I didn't know, so I know what it feels like to bomb.  But, just like a runner would, she got through the finish and that's what it's all about.

Well, I made a bathroom stop and all the runners moved into the starting area and waited for the gun to go off.  We saw the pack slowly shuffle forward and off we went.  I started my Garmin and was ready to go!  This run already showed itself to be something that I was not accustomed to… Running on gravel, cobblestone and rocks is significantly different than running on pavement, asphalt and concrete.  The way my foot was landing provided a much different sensation.  My foot never landed evenly and this would be a problem as we got into higher mileage.

Miles 1-4 were pretty ok.  Mike and I ran and talked about everything from the new couch Kim and I purchased to running the Philly half marathon to going to Miami and running my first full marathon.  He might run it with me… We’ll see.

Anyway, the first aid station was around mile 3 or 3.5, they served water and lemon lime Gatorade.  I didn’t need anything at that point.  We were making good time.  Our strategy before the race began was to take it slow for the first half and then around mile 8, we’d pick it up a bit and finish strong.  The first half of the race went ok… I began feeling the effects of the terrain as we got closer to the 6.55 mile mark, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle.  I just felt like I was working a little harder than I normally would on a long training run of about 10-12 miles on a smooth surface.

Now, for the two weeks leading up to this race, I was in a slight funk and I wrote about it in an earlier post.  I went to Winchester, VA to stay in a hotel with my family on Labor Day Weekend and I really feel like that was part of what took me out of my rhythm.  I was in a good training groove and I intended on running a long run while in Winchester, but it didn’t happen and ever since that week, I’ve been struggling mentally and my motivation has not been there.  I don’t know how and if Labor Day weekend had anything to do with it, but, I noticed a difference in my mentality.  As of today, September 22, 2013, I’m happy to say that I feel fine… I’m still working to get a good training week in of 25+ miles, but I feel like my drive to achieve is back.

I’m looking forward to a good week of running.

We were moving pretty steadily and around mile 5 we began to see the leaders coming back towards us.  That answered my question… We had to go out on the uneven trail and come back on the uneven trail.  I felt major punishment going and coming… There was no rest for the weary.  We were coming up on another aid station and I decided to take a Gatorade this time.  My knees were already bothering me and I assumed that this is what happens when you take 2 weeks off, in the name of tapering.  I was supposed to have gotten an 8 mile run in on the Sunday before the race… That didn’t happen.  I was supposed to have completed an easy run of 3.5 on Tuesday and Wednesday, before the race… That didn’t happen.  In my mind, I was resting my legs; but, the 12.3 mile training run that I ran with Mike, 2 weeks before the race was the last run I did of any notable distance.  Huge mistake…

The weekend before, I ran the NFL Back to Football 5k at FedEx Field and used that as speed work.  Frankly speaking, even that performance could’ve been better.  There’s one thing about my journey toward taking my health back that I’m noticing, I’m learning more and more about myself and the things I need to improve to be a better me.  This is a journey of self-discovery and I’m glad that you’ve decided to join me.
Well, we reached the half way mark…  I felt ok at that point.  I was happy to have reached 6.55 miles.  We were halfway there… We were halfway home!

We kept trucking and around mile 8.25, I began to feel a slight twinge in my left knee.  All throughout the first half, I could feel each rock and stone at various pressure points on my feet.  That sensation travelled up my legs in a way that I’ve never felt before.  I felt more pressure in my calves than I’d ever felt in any of my training runs.  I felt pain in feet and leg muscles that I’d never felt before in any of my training runs.  My ankles were on fire with soreness and we still had a little more than 4 miles to go!!  Not good.

We had already slowed to a pace that we’d never run before in training runs.  This uneven trail was wearing me out!!  I was drinking water more frequently now, not because it was hot… It wasn’t.  I was drinking more water, because I didn’t want to cramp up from dehydration.  I was working so hard.  Each time we came across an aid station, I took a Gatorade for the electrolytes.

It wasn’t working.  I was beginning to feel like if I dug deeper to try to move faster, my legs would seize up with cramps.  Too late… around mile 11, I started getting Charlie horses in the toes on my left foot.  Those Charlie horses turned into cramps in the top of my calves.  I then started to feel cramps in my hamstrings.  My ankles were already sore.  I had to walk.  This was pretty disappointing… I’ve never walked at any point in a long training run, but I didn’t have a choice here.

I realized that this is where the mental battle is fought.  When your body is being defiant and will not do what you want it to do, will you quit?  Thankfully, Mike was there.  After experiencing training runs of me pulling him through, this was his opportunity to return the favor and he did, like a champ!!  Knowing that I was in pain he tried running on the grass, which would’ve been softer. But, I couldn’t even bear that for too long.  I had to stop again and walk.

Mike was determined to finish and so was I.  That wasn’t even a question… The question in my mind, was how long it would take to get there.  I’m pretty sure that my pride was fueling the choice to run through the finish line.  I kept telling Mike that there was no way I was going to walk through it, with our wives and other family watching.  We were gonna run through the finish.  Around mile 12, my cousin, who ran the race with us, passed us.  We greeted each other, told him briefly what was going on and encouraged him to go ahead and not to wait for us, as he was running a very strong race.

We walked until we reached the 12.75 mark and got back to running.  At this point, for me, it was more like a shuffle.  As we got closer to the finish line, we could hear the spectators yelling and screaming in excitement.  This was a great feeling.  Seeing the finish line and all the people waiting there for us, took away the pain momentarily.

As we crossed the finish line, the person that gave us our finisher’s medals was none other than… my mother in law???  She came to watch us complete our first half marathon, but she had begun volunteering!! LOL… I got my finisher’s medal for my first half marathon from my mother in law.  I’m smiling and laughing in my head as I’m writing this.  I was happy to have finished my first half marathon and I don’t think anyone has ever had their mother in law give them their finisher’s medal.  This one is definitely for the books.

On the surface, this would speak to the lack of organization on the race director’s part.  But, looking past that, it enhances my personal experience in running this race.

As I sit here writing about the race and reminisce about all the events that happened, I would call this race a character building race.  This race showed me things that I may have already known, but also some things that I may not have known.  And the experience makes me better.

What did I learn from running my first half marathon?

I learned to finish something I started.  My life is full of things that I’ve started but haven’t finished… School, businesses, jobs, etc.  But, I was able to finish this.  I was able to finish my first half marathon.  It wasn’t pretty, but it was completed and that’s a huge step for me.  This will be a tool in improving myself into the person I envision being.

I learned that pain and discomfort will always be a part of the journey of doing something worthwhile.  Whether you’re running or working to achieve some other goal that you’ve set, there will be times when you will be tested mentally and physically.  What will you do?  How will you respond?  Are you determined to succeed?

I could definitely say a lot more about my first half marathon experience, but, I will more than likely draw from it as I grow in the future.

Overall, I’m happy with the outcome.  There’s nowhere to go, but up.  There’s nothing else to do but build and improve on this experience.  There’s no one to do it, but me.